Martyrs (UK - BD RB)
Our Marcus keeps looking at the eyes in this French horror film on Blu-ray Disc...
Martyrs begins with a young girl, Lucie, running out of a warehouse. She’s beaten, bloody, her hair has been shaved, and we find out by new orphanage-friend Anna, that she doesn’t remember her captors. Picking up fifteen years later and after a brutal shooting, we discover that Lucie‘s (Mylène Jampanoï) demons continue to haunt her even with Anna ((Morjana Alaoui) at her side.
I went into Martyrs almost completely blind, only having seen the poster a few times and hearing a few comments from friends (that all highlighted just how messed up the movie was), but I wasn’t expecting much beyond another all guts and no glory entry in the "torture porn" sub-genre that I’ve generally had a lukewarm reaction to over last few years. How very wrong that presumption turned out to be.
The opening forty five minutes is a rollercoaster. After the fairly conventional opening, giving us a brief back-story and setting up the 'thing' that's haunting Lucie, we enter into a fairy mundane, typical family breakfast. There are playful arguments, it’s all shot like a TV drama and you begin to wonder just where this is all going. Then Lucie arrives with her shotgun and we’re thrown straight into some shockingly real executions of the whole family and beyond that we get an even more shocking reveal of what’s been going on in Lucie‘s head since she was a child.
It has to be said that Mylène Jampanoï’s performance as Lucie is immediately what draws you into this movie. She’s intense and has a genuine presence on screen. You feel her fear just as much as her madness and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if she went on to far grander things because of her work here. Anyway back to the movie, Lucie’s demon (which I won‘t describe or even hint at what it is because it would spoil an element of the story) is just messed up. The way it moves its body, the things it does to Lucie and just how gruesome the acts are really show off a director who knows what he’s out to do, and thankfully Pascal Laugier is a director who isn’t just doing this for a reaction but thankfully to add weight to his frankly brilliant story.
Once the first forty five minutes or so are done with, I felt I'd seen more horrific events than I’ve seen in pretty much all of the horror movies that spring to my mind, especially for a first forty minute count of them anyway. What’s even more impressive is that at the end of those forty five minutes we are seemingly done with what I thought the story was going to be about and the story goes in a whole new direction, a direction that for me makes this movie so much more than it will probably be given credit for.
I shouldn’t and won’t go into where this movie goes for its second half, but I will say this: Martyrs is probably the most fucked up movie I’ve ever seen, but what’s more shocking is that all of these visuals are absolutely there to strengthen the story. It’s extremely brutal in everything it does and some of, hell most of, its visuals will make a whole portion of its audience queasy, but it never feels forced or out for a reaction. In fact, it makes movies like Hostel and the other big names in the “torture porn” genre seem tame by comparison, but thankfully that is where the comparisons end. Pascal Laugier’s movie shouldn’t be lumped in with this ever growing catalogue of extreme horror. Martyrs is so much more than that. Its story sets it apart from the crowd and Laugier really shows off a sense of credibility to his audience, sometimes even avoiding the obvious scares, like not throwing in sexual violence (which he easily could have) as another threat to the already horrific situation and this really keeps the bigger picture in focus.
Laugier has produced a rewarding horror movie here. The fact that one of the creepiest moments for me was some old woman calmly showing one of our characters pictures of people and repeating “look at the eyes” or explaining that what they are about to do seems to work better with young women, of which our main character is, just highlights how much more the story as a whole had its hooks into me. Nothing in Martyrs is done for fun, or shocks or spectacle (okay maybe a little), the violence is there for a story and the story really is what makes this movie something more than just the another horror event.
Martyrs has a pretty good looking transfer. Colours can be slightly muted but are bold and the level of detail is high especially in the gruesome make-up effects (sometimes uncomfortably). The transfer generally has a nice realistic look about it. It can sometimes look a little patchy in the darker scenes, with a blue mist often creeping in to where the light sources meet the darkness, but black levels are mostly nice and deep.
Grain levels are kept to a minimum but are apparent, especially in the first half of the movie but overall this is a nice clean transfer that captures the grime, blood and torn flesh on show almost too well... but that’s a good thing.
This can be quite a quiet movie at times with much of the audio living in the front speakers, however when the entire selection of blood curdling screams and shrieks come into play the track is quite impressive, filling the room and keeping your attention well and truly fixed on the proceedings.
Dialogue always remains clear and there is a real feeling for the location that Martyrs ends up in for the second half of the movie, due to the use of echoes and clangs of metal as well as the thuds and slaps that fill the room as well. It’s not an outstanding bit of audio by any stretch, but its subtle nature fits the movie perfectly.
Dropping straight into the making of (1hr 25 mins SD) we get a thoroughly enjoyable, thoroughly interesting look at the making of the movie. It sometimes surprised me how some of the days shoots seemed to have quite a laid back almost enjoyable feel to them despite what they were filming and it has to be said that Laugier really seems to have an understanding of his material and how he wants it to be perceived by the audience. Also at the beginning there’s a frank and honest take on his feelings on the studios poster design which really doesn’t give a sense of the movie at all.
In the interview with Pascal Laugier (19:20 SD) we get more intelligent discussion on the director's work. He raises a fine point about how Martyrs isn’t a commentary on anything, but a story he wanted to tell and a real show of his understanding of how powerful the visuals were and why they were constructed like that.
Finally there’s an interview with makeup effects man Benoit Lasting (13:52 SD) which takes a look at his very impressive work in the movie.
For me, Martyrs outshines all of the modern horrors it sits beside on the shelf. Laugier‘s control of the story is something to behold in the genre of late, his ability to deliver thought provoking, almost moving twists and turns in amongst the extreme events is much welcomed. The fact I came away from this movie more caught up in how the story played out and with what was actually going on, as opposed to the truly messed up visuals I’d seen, was more than enough to ensure this has a high placing on my year's best movies.
The disc itself does everything the movie requires with a good transfer and some subtly effective audio, and with the inclusion of a nice set of features this is a no brainer of a recommendation (unless of course you have a low or middling threshold for violence in movies, in which case it's probably best you avoid).
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 25th May 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 French
Extras: Making of, Interviews
Easter Egg: No
Director: Pascal Laugier
Cast: Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanoï, Catherine Bégin
Genre: Drama and Horror
Length: 99 minutes
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